Best Selling

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Circling Back to Online Campaign Manager

 In an earlier post I talked about my use of an online campaign manager for my games. At the time I was running a fantasy game and a supers game. I also set up three others for my solo roleplaying. My reason for liking them was a permanent record available as long as I have an internet connection.

For the fantasy game the campaign was coming to a conclusion so my entries were more of a way to clean out some three ring binders and touch the history one more time before shelving. The supers game I need to have a place for stats and rules I needed to access quick because I was using Champions and there are to many rules for me to effectively adjudicate and maintain interesting banter. The solo stuff is perfect for the online campaign manager. I play at these so seldomly it saves space on my shelves and if I pick one up in three months all the details of what was going on are at my fingertips. Once again I can play these games on the road.

My current game, my only game I am running, is a continuation of my supers campaign but with the DC Heroes rules. Specifically the Blood of Heroes Special Edition rule book. 

As this has been going on I have been using three ring binders less and less. Has nothing to do with the use of a campaign manager though. I believe I have just settled into my "minimalist" approach to world building and game notes. 

I love these compact, hardbound notebooks for all my brainstorming and upcoming adventure building. The one in this photo has the Rom'Myr fantasy campaign from the time the PCs arrived in Zeu Orb to the finish and the Champions campaign which has now morphed into a MEGS campaign. The other book is a blank drawing pad. I have soft cover and hard cover books of these drawing pads and here I put down my drawings of the games action when inspired to do so. And this is all I'm using except having a hard copy of a games rulebook nearby. I'm not even writing things up on my computer anymore. My file folders for games are now just a repository for pictures I scanned, pics from the internet and character sheets so I can print out a villain's profile I need before a game. I sometimes write a session report, but I would rather draw some pictures of the action then write down the action. Besides I record all my game sessions so I have an audio record which is the best session report you are ever going to get. 

When I got back into gaming in 2012 I started with my USR Sword & Sorcery campaign and I have three to four thick three ring binders of the whole damn affair. Same for my second campaign Clockwork and Cthulhu. My shift to a minimalist approach began when I stumbled on means to record game sessions. And it has steadily refined into a not-time-consuming means of game prep and organization behind the scenes of my other overt attempts at taming the beast which is DM'ing. 

The point of all this is I don't use an online campaign manager. I take that back, I have a MeWe group for the game but this is just to post when the next game is and a quick way for anyone to get a hold of anyone else. I look at this as a continuous refining of an artistic process. I love to put pen to paper, to sketch, write and think. Compact size of notebook restrains going on and on with text. I hesitate to put anything down which isn't immediately relevant. A good way to stay in the meditative state of "the action is where the players are!"

I have come to the conclusion I have no use for online campaign managers, go figure.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

How to find out if you are cut out to be a GM

 I know, sounds like I'm being a blowhard asshole. We are all good Game Masters if we have been at it enough and are willing to learn from our mistakes and you remember everyone else is there to play a roleplaying game also and don't want to be railroaded.

No, I'm talking about reaching back in time and figuring why when I first heard someone describe a roleplaying game to me (1976?) I had no idea what they were talking about and at the same time I knew I had to get down on this roleplaying game stuff. And why did I go straight to Game Master without considering being a player? What is burnt into my synapsis which makes me think about gaming and the games I'm involved with ALL THE FUCKING TIME? Even when I wasn't gaming from 1993 till 2012 I had a Elric! always by my side and I would rather speculate on what adventure to write as opposed to reading all my fantasy books again? Like for realzies. Not, "oh I'm a creative person, that's why". Everyone is a creative person. Even the ones who say they are not. 

This past weekend I was at a dinner party and the four of us, and this was not my idea, completed the Briggs-Myers personality test. A coupley thing to do with your coupley friends. I'm sure this has been done as a party game like a bagillion times and I was familiar with this test in a pop-culture sort of way. Never took it though. I did take an ADHD test years ago, but I knew what the results were going to be before I took it. Off the charts (passing?) grade! So the test is supposed to identify what of 16 different personality types you are. That is all I knew about it, don't know what the types are, don't know what the definitions of each type are. I was intrigued immediately. You mean I have a class? I love classes. I'm even fine with race as class. Except I don't want to be pigeon holed. I got to be free man, I'm not one thing. This has got to be a crock of shit. 

I landed on ENTP, the debater. Per the game rules, once you came up with your personality from completing the test you turn the laptop over to someone else and they read it out loud. Then you talk about why you think so and so are together. Lot of oohs, awws and of course laughs. 

If you are looking for someone to be game master you might want to ask them if they are ENTP because there is a shit-ton packed into this type which make for excellent traits in a Game Master. It also answered for me my speculations on why there are far to few Game Masters out there compared to players. Or why there are more folks looking to be players as opposed to being a Game Master. One, it is a never ending thankless task of staying in genre and put forth interesting and original ideas for people to dig into, give back and complete the circle. Second the ENTP represents only 3% of the population! We are rare birds indeed. 

I also found out why my wife will never be interested in playing rpg's. She landed on ISFJ, Defender. Protective, warm and caring is not what you want in a Game Master. 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Deluxe USR Sword & Sorcery

 First part of the book is done! This includes all the rules, magic and spells, carousing and a bestiary. Now the second half of the book; World of Xoth setting and three new adventures. Shrine of the Keepers will be included as well, but has been circulating for a while. This shit is coming together, love it.

Even Heroes Bleed Issue #5 part 2

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Anchor Update


Battle of Arras 10th April 1917 - Wargaming Continued


The morning of the 10 saw a thin layer of snow on the ground, but otherwise the rain had stopped. Word from the top is the offensive was a success and substantial gains had been made the very first day. The horizon to the west trembled under the ceaseless thump of Third Army’s artillery and the ever-burning black clouds of war. Now more than ever the RFC needs to provide the offensive the vital intel it needs to sustain the drive.

Therefore, XIII Army Wing orders two Fe2’s on each photo-recon mission. With no time to spare every mission must come out a success! Lessons learned from the first day are shaping the squadron’s tactics in real time! The RAF spotter planes have had their best success flying low to the deck and leaving before the enemy can dive from 4K and intercept them. More to the point, the Germans couldn’t intercept both of them before they reached the safety of the Canadian lines.

The Mission Board for Tuesday the 10th looks the same as yesterday. 3 Photo-Recon missions and a bombing run. Same sector, most likely same opponents, Jasta 11. Rumors fly like mosquitoes among the aerodromes on where the “Bloody” Red Baron is in action. It seems the legendary Ace is in five places at once. Truth is the front has not seen the fearsome red Albatross and its deadly operator for two days now. Could he be dead? And the German High Command is covering it up?

Bomber 8, the Phoenix and 9 Shockwave are assigned Linwood and his Hellfire Horde. More photos of the German road networks behind the front are needed. The sky is once again overcast, but the rain has not resumed. Karl and Ezekial lead in their Fe2s while Linwood watches their six from 4,000m.

The Huns are not sleeping in today and the Allied pilots stiffen up when the grey fighters of Rote Spinnen are spotted at 4,000m and closing. Two of them. Reinhardt and Norbert open the throttle all the way and go at the Allied bombers a thousand meters below them. The Fe2s hold formation and start their defensive dive. They are counting on Linwood to fly down and shake one of the bombers free from attack. It once again begins a battle of speed and space. The Ab/d3s, two of them, gain on the slower FE2s one hundred meters at a time while Linwood can already tell he is falling behind as the German planes out dive him. He decides he will have to let the battle come to him. He banks the dive right in the familiar wide-sweep preceding a fighter’s attack. Knowing the 11ths flight path Linwood plans on surprising the enemy. But the Albatross dives too fast, too far for Linwood to close the gap. He would have to risk a wing-tearing nosedive to match their rapid descent. He squirts bullets at the German’s tail trying to force a challenge, but the nervy fighters ignore him. They strike wingtip to wingtip at the tailing Allied bomber. Its Karl’s Phoenix. The German flyers ease off on their throttles and a second round of firing obliterates the Allied bomber-craft. But the stratagem worked. The other bomber plane was now out of reach of the attackers. Only Linwood remained engaged. He corrected the situation immediately and turned west.

I Sure Could Play some DnD

Yes, I am hard-charging through running a supers game, and it is the referee challenge I anticipated it will be. Specifically the real-world consequences of supers action in "real" world situations. It seems so effortlessly done in the comics and film because the creators have absolute control of the narrative. RPGs are not like that, on purpose, because the play is the thing and confounding one's expectations are the order of the day. For both referee and player. Responding quickly and creatively with the incredible events which supers creates is, for me, the lure of supers roleplay. 

And some days I look wistfully at my Elric! rulebook and the isolation sword and sorcery roleplay affords the busy Game Master. Fantasy is easier to run because Biden is president the action is always where the players are at. One part of the game world does not know what is happening in other parts. Except for the multi-dimensional beings pulling strings, I guess. In supers, or any other modern game, everything is connected to everything! That is harder to adjudicate. Same freedom applies to sci-fi roleplay. The sheer expanse of the natural universe is overwhelming and makes isolation of action easy to maintain. But a game set in your gritty urban city of millions, fuck, it gets weird just having the players take a car ride out of town. What does the rest of the world know of them? That is a big fucking question. A scary question. How is it well done? I still don't have good answers for this, besides looking at the current events of the day. That seems to be my current way out of not knowing what is the best, logical move of the game world to the characters actions. The real world is more weird, strange and frightening than fantasy supers world. I think I need to key on real life people and institutions which can be turned into supers caricatures. But caricatures seem lazy and abhorrent to my artistic  bent. I want something legitimate. But legitimate in an artistic sense in my terms means a lot. It means moving past tried and true and taking risks. 

I can't really explain it. But I know when it happens in game. I've delivered something on message and unexpected and dare I say cool in the game when players react in that awesome way: "Whoa!" Nothing better to my GM ears then the collective "Holy fuck" exclamation from the players at the table. If you can get any of the players in your virtual game table to stand up and start pacing and rubbing their forehead you are doing something right! 

I can recall two occasions I achieved this monumental feat. Both were fantasy games. The first time was during my play test of USR Sword & Sorcery in 2012. The players had completed their charge, escort a young prince through a dangerous city and equally dangerous mountains to a remote keep. They were escorted out of the main hall after the royal head requested they be paid for their faithful and successful service. At the gate the sergeant told the players to get the fuck out. Commoners are not getting paid, petty corruption of the simplest sort. The sergeant pocketed the purse of gold and the PCs were left outside in the cold with nothing to show for their efforts. They got pissed! It was pitch-perfect as far as any genre conceit could be and the players were not expecting this turn of events. It prompted the most awesome thing in any roleplaying game; the PCs began to bicker. As game referee this is where you get to sit back and watch the game being played completely in the hands of the PCs. I love that!

Oh, this reminds me of the third time I achieved this kind of gaming awesomeness. It was plain old DnD and it was a mexican stand-off between a vampire lord, frenzied fairy bitch, and the PCs in an enchanted and rotten tree crawling with bugs and corrupted sap dripping on their heads. The BBEG was dealing, making intriguing offers which aligned with the party's interests. When I say mexican standoff I mean it was twitchy fingers on the gun belts and the first side to blink wholesale carnage would get unleashed. There was no guarantee on who would come out on top in this confrontation. This is all theater of the mind, but I could feel the Paladin's arm shoot out in front of the frothing Cleric when he stated "He has made no move against us!" A Paladin! Asking the Cleric to step off and deal! That shit is gold. My relief was palatable, to me, when I set down the initiative die I had been rubbing briskly in my hands. 

The second time was completely unplanned. It was one of those times when you spontaneously react to the unexpected in the best possible ways. The Cleric was going down at the hands of the evil lich-lord's undead minions. It was curtains, even though the group had slain the lich-lord by a bold move of the Assassin. The Cleric proposed, in his moment of great victory and grim death, his last plea to his "god" in a very specific and  appropriate way. Highly dramatic. "Sacrifice # experience points," I responded. This shit isn't necessarily original, but timing is everything and this adjudication fell hard and hot if the collective "whooooa" around the table is to be believed.

I have yet to achieve this with my supers game. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

ATU, OTU, No TU; my Traveller Hot Take

 Mewe this morning sported this graphic; 
Here the poster wants you to pick on the graph your Traveller play lands. While the chart displays a side for the game company's created setting (OTU for Original Traveller Universe). Which is not exactly true because Traveller when first released came with no setting. Developers assumed Referees and players had their own ideas they would wish to play. How wrong the first opinions of the first RPG creators were! And you got to sell more product, so like every other game company out there, GDW sold people a pre-packaged universe. 

On the left hand side of the graph is ATU (Alternate Traveller Universe). This refers to  a referee altering the Imperium setting to suit their needs. Not anything completely original though, just the basic acts a referee in any game is going to do when they get their hands on a published setting. 

And there you have CT (Classic Traveller) straddling the line between the two. What the graph lacks is a place for how Traveller was originally intended to be used. It is amusing, to me, that this important fact/attitude/outlook was completely lost when the game was released to the world. And I'm no different. When I first looked at Traveller a long time ago I took it as a game designed for adventure play in the "official" setting, and therefore bypassed it altogether and went with FGU's Space Opera. This game at least stressed in the introduction that the rules should be used to create your own science fiction settings and worlds. Unfortunately Space Opera had a terribly organized and edited rule book so I was never able to get very far with it in high school. 

It took a series of excellent blog posts, "Traveller out of the box" I think they are called which helped clarify what I was looking to do with my first attempts at science-fiction roleplay and how the original black books delivered, in spades!, for those intending to do something original. 

And that is the way I ran with Traveller when I got an online sci-fi game going. So the graph lacks a position, a place for people playing the game as first envisioned by Marc Miller, the creator of the game. 

Imperium-Adjacent the whole graph needs to be called. There is the official universe and then there are those who fiddle with the details. That is about it. So somewhere off the chart is where I live with the game. There is no space to pencil in "used as toolbox to build original games".

I turned to Dune, as I am wont to do when reflecting on the sci-fi (for game purposes, not reading pleasure) and what is my intent, goal with my game of sci-fi.

 Take the Dune books. Ostensibly the original book (the only one that matters) takes place on one planet and in one city on the planet. The star-spanning cultures of the Dune universe are only inferred through the thoughts and actions of the characters. Neat trick I say. So Frank Herbert created a huge galactic society by not creating a whole huge galactic society...

It begs the question how much world-building should a referee do at the outset of a new campaign? And it seems not much. I appreciate the brutal nakedness of the first generation of roleplaying games. Here is a set of rules tilted towards an adventure genre so when you create your own classic vision of sci-fi, western, fantasy the rules will support the referee's efforts. The first part of the original rules for Traveller accommodate this game philosophy through character creation. The method is such a neat "trick" players and referee can begin a game with little prep and plop media res at opening scene. Something as simple as "You are in the starport bar when a stranger approaches you with a proposition." Now players are sure to start squawking for setting information; what bar, what planet, what system... What navy, army, scout service spawned my character? 

I think the nimble referee looking to build a game universe around their player's characters is well rewarded by utilizing Classic Traveller rules. It is awesome if the referee has a crystal-clear idea on what the world setting will ultimately be about (Dune is a good example). Players get to "grow-up" with the game universe and learn about it like you would in real life, through experience. But if not, the game still supports the referee through all the important steps of adventure creation and campaigning. Without resorting to a pre-built universe to show you "how it is done." 

In conclusion, Traveller was once able to assist you with whatever sci-fi subgenre tickles your fancy. Planetary Romance, Hard Science Military, galactic savants and sentient planets, telepathic whales and rabbit-holes of new discoveries. Demons, wormhole passages, dreamy natives living on top of the ruins of ancients. Its use was quickly blasted away under the understandable need for gamers to be given a starting point, an official universe and the understandable need for the company to sell what the majority of gamers want. 

Long and short of it, I'm a relict of gamings past. The original design philosophy of the likes of Arneson and Miller leave me not wanting much more from the company outside of their genre specific rules. It is a concept I can lose hold of in the product push by game companies trying to pay the bills. Unfortunately for game companies fierce creatives will use their rules well, but not drop much on additional merch.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Stonewall's Last Battle

Stonewall's Last BattleThe Chancellorsville Campaign is the fifth volume in the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War Series by our venerable and defunct publisher, Avalon Hills. It is the only title of the GCotACW I own and is the only US Civil War game I own in toto. It is a genre I have been most desiring to play but never have. This game recreates "Fighting Joe" Hooker's bold flank march across the Rappahannock to the climactic battles around Chancellorsville. Included is a beautifully ren­dered game map of central Virginia which includes the Wilderness, Fredericksburg and practically the whole length of the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers. This highly accurate map is based on original Civil War maps in state and county archives. And the map links with the maps from the other 4 games! Yes, you can give yourself a theater 5x the size of what you start with. 


I have had the game since 2004(?). Got it the same time as Columbia Games’ East Front and GMT’s The Battle for North Africa. Completing Scenario #1 last night and then rolling through 3 turns of Scenario #6 I now have solid opinions on this package of goods. These are all great games!

Stonewall’s Last Battle impressed me with the mechanical flow of the game. It tilted back and forth with an unpredictable initiative system. This means one side can move and attack with their units multiple time in a row. This feature is balanced by Fatigue. Every time a unit does something it increases its level of fatigue by 1. At 4 fatigue the unit is dead in the water. and must wait for the conclusion of the day-long turn and its concordant Recovery Phase before it can take action again. 

 and the game map is gorgeous. It makes the situation the commanders faced more accessible with a good-looking map and dynamic turn play. In short, it is a fun
game with a great package of features. My favorite feature is the amount of text given over to a detailed report of each day’s actions from the historical record. You can just set up the campaign scenario and see why Hooker and Lee would have made the decisions they did. Which was all dependent on the terrain faced. Which is excellently portrayed on the game map!

Good looking box. It is one of the more appealing spines on the shelf and makes you want to slide out the game and see the full cover art. The rules are laid out well. I highlighted key items over many readings and now the rules feel understood. This is all solo play and I had played the Salem Church scenario (#1) up to going through march and assault attacks with the forces. Maybe three times since 2005? I confirmed this with a fast play through of the scenario and moved right into the full game, Scenario #6 The Chancellorsville Campaign!

I have forgone the historical flank attack made by Hooker and made my Union crossing of the Rappahannock directly on either side of Fredericksburg and am going straight at Lee dug in south of the city. First two turns go quick. The Union basically gets two turns (two days) of maneuver north of the Rappahannock before he must place his bridging counters. Once the Unions have bridged the river the fighting starts, and my game is starting out no different. The Union can place 1 of the 2 bridging counters available. Jackson, in response to the attacks on the fords west of Fredericksburg, had moved up a full division east of the city, denying their planned crossing at this location with the pontoon bridge constructed for the task.

This makes the prosecution of the Union advance committed to a western crossing, but there are plenty of avenues to get the Army of the Potomac across and into the Confederate lines. Turn 3 is a grind. I have made a strong attack against Lee with 3 Corp attacking the breastworks of Fredericksburg from the west. In response Lee calls for his southern reserves to mobilize. These are the remaining elements of Jackson's Corp and the historical Confederate defensive strategy leaps at you. The Union is forced to expose its right flank attacking the Confederate position, and Lee has the Army of Northern Virginia’s reserves in just the right spot to pounce on this weakness as they approach Fredericksburg.

I play through several more turns. I crossed the river just east of Fredericksburg but Sickles/Sedgewick is not going to get farther than this. The rebels dug in are too strong behind their forts but not strong enough to dislodge three full divisions. Stalemate. This means going straight at the city from one side will only repeat what Burnside experienced, slaughter. His men were slaughtered in the frontal attack. He to tried to do an end around Lee, but the high waters and torrential rain drowned his second attempt in the mud of Virginia's roads and muddy tracks. 

I'm too late to try this. My union forces were stalled on two separate times by high rivers and more rain and now the game is too far along to change course and achieve victory. So I think the simulation is well balanced. Makes me want to play more games from this series!